Today’s guest post comes from Carnun Marcus-Page. I did a guest post at his blog earlier this week, and he has kindly returned the favour. I want to open the scope of this blog out to look at different avenues for people leaving fundamentalism. Carnun has never believed in any kind of God. Later, we’ll hear from someone who has left fundamentalism but still considers himself a follower of Jesus.
My school-life experience and secular home upbringing – aspects of my life which are ongoing – could not be further from the fundamentalism Jonny left.
As Proverbs 22:6 will tell you: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
I was not ‘trained’.
From a young age I was taught to value evidence. Everything had a reason, be it why right was right and wrong wrong; or why evolution seemed, while hard to grasp initially, the most sensible origin of all of the beautifully complex life we have on Earth today.
I was taught that adults aren’t always right, and that I should challenge teachers if I had trouble understanding or agreeing with what they said. I constantly had my hand up in primary school, asking questions.
I was taught to make my own mind up about everything: including ‘God’.
Very few get that privilege. Even in the earliest years of Primary education, children around me knew that God existed. They wouldn’t be able to tell you why, just that he did (with his obvious masculinity seeming very odd to me at the time). Naturally, I was curious.
“How do you know”, I would say; not accusingly or aggressively, but friendlily.
“Because I believe”, they would proudly assert. “Don’t you?”
“What?” mouth open, eyes wide, “Really?”
This next quote I remember very vividly.
“Well then God is going to stick pins in your eyes, and you will burn in hell.”
This sentence is ingrained in my brain not because it scared me, but because it was said with a confident smile by a sweet, young, ignorant, friendly little girl. That made me sad.
I think it’s worth saying that I have never (or at least never remember) believing in God. I didn’t need to. Everything had a reason, a logical explanation.
Why were there thunderstorms? Was Zeus angry?
No, lightning was but an electrostatic discharge.
Why were there earthquakes? Was Yaweh throwing a hissy fit at homosexuals?
No, tectonic plates explained that away.
Why was there suffering in the world? Was the Devil causing crops to fail?
No. Other humans’ greed, coupled with drought and desertification, made people suffer. As well as misinformation that tended to be wholly religious in origin.
Even as a small child, I was passionately Atheist.
I wasn’t an angry Atheist, and I was open to (and enjoyed) discussion. It just always pained me to hear young children (I was a young child too, bearing in mind) tell me that their God is love, their religion is peace, and if I don’t accept that I will be punished in the most brutally painful way imaginable.
It also struck me as rather odd that children that young had any beliefs at all. I mean, how can a child really comprehend the enormity of a universal puppet master, and make their own mind up about its likelihood? How can a baby?
As I would later find Richard Dawkins argue, it felt wrong to say ‘Muslim child’, or ‘Christian child’. They were ‘children with Muslim parents’ or ‘Children with Christian parents’, as I am a child with Atheist/Agnostic parents.
Only I was allowed to make my own mind up. The ‘children with X parents’ had no choice.
Sure, I was influenced by my parents – it’d be crazy to argue otherwise. But they taught me to question them, and that’s what I did.
Mum didn’t believe in God because there was no evidence for one, and she didn’t take kindly to the paradox of supposed religious moral superiority and widespread (directly linked to particular religious teachings) misery.
My Step-Dad also didn’t see evidence for one, and vocally opposed corrosive religious teachings. But he was open to ‘God the Physicist’ – a ‘something’ which kick-started the Big Bang.
Now, as I always have, I can get into long, thorough conversations with both of my parents on the topic – and can even argue, from a physics perspective (and as a purely intellectual exercise), with the seemingly unknowable ‘God the Physicist’ hypothesis… And I thank them for it. The unrelenting curiosity they instilled in me has led to my love of science.
This is why I believe the hallmark of good parenting is not teaching your children what to think, but how to think – and the world would be a better place if this humble practice was more widespread.
That’s obviously not to say that religious parents can’t be good, loving parents… It’d just be nicer if more of them would be open to, and receptive of, their children asking questions.
Thanks to Carnun; his blog is at carnunmarcuspage.wordpress.com. The thought I put to him, as an idea for his post, was this: I sometimes feel that, if no one had ever told me about God, I would never have thought of him for myself. I was curious to see whether someone raised secular ever had a sense of God. For Carnun, that answer is no. What do you guys think?